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All About Cat Dandruff: Causes & Care Solutions

Some cat breeds are known for many striking features, including their sleek, shiny hair coats. They are meticulous self-groomers, so one might expect their beautiful fur to always stay clean and glossy. However, like humans, cats can have skin issues, including dandruff. Sometimes, dandruff has a simple, non-threatening cause, which can be treated easily. Other times, it indicates a cause for concern and needs further examination. So, why do some cats have dandruff? Read on and find out.

What is dandruff in cats?

Cats have thin and delicate skin. The skin's natural oils provide moisture balance and protection. Sebaceous glands produce sebum onto the skin and hair follicles, an oily substance that prevents dryness and lubricates the skin. While dandruff is not harmful to your cat, it can sometimes represent an underlying condition of concern.

Dandruff appears as white, yellowish, or gray skin flakes on a cat's fur. These flakes often occur on a cat's back near the tail or around the neck. Dandruff is different from dander, the normal shedding of small pieces of invisible skin.

Anatomy of cat skin

Causes of dandruff in cats

There are many factors contributing to dandruff, some of little concern and others more worrisome. To find out how to get rid of cat dandruff, it's important to find the underlying cause.

Skin disorders

Dandruff in cats can be symptomatic of underlying skin medical conditions that require veterinary attention. One such condition is seborrheic dermatitis, a skin disorder characterized by excessive sebum production, leading to oily, flaky skin. Fungal infections, such as ringworm (not a worm), can cause irritation that includes hair loss and dandruff. Cats can also develop bacterial skin infections and skin cancer, the most common of which is cutaneous lymphoma.

Changes in grooming habits

Known for their meticulous grooming habits, cats may exhibit dandruff as a sign of underlying health concerns. Whether it's decreased grooming or overgrooming, potential issues such as arthritis, obesity, dental disease, and stress can manifest in various ways.

Arthritis, often seen in aging cats, can impede grooming due to discomfort in joint movement, while obesity limits their reach for proper grooming. Dental pain may deter cats from grooming altogether. Stressors like changes in routine or new pets can exacerbate dandruff flare-ups. In such cases, a vet visit is crucial for diagnosis and treatment, as addressing the underlying cause is essential for your cat's well-being and comfort.

Environmental causes

The air in your home can contain less humidity, especially in the wintertime, due to your indoor heat working overtime. This can cause drier skin on your cat. On the other hand, it may be so hot in the summer that your cat gets dehydrated. Exposure to harsh weather conditions or excessive sun can damage the delicate nature of feline skin.

Allergies

Cats can have allergies, just like people. However, allergies in cats are more likely to affect the skin than the upper respiratory system. Cats can be allergic to dust mites, pollen, fleas, ingredients in their diet, and many other things. As a result, the skin can become red, irritated, and itchy, and dandruff or secondary skin infections can develop.

Diet

A poor diet can easily lead to dry, flaky skin, especially if the diet is low in fatty acids or other key nutrients. Allergies to certain ingredients in cat food can also manifest as skin issues, including dandruff.

Parasites

Parasites such as mites, fleas, and ticks can be accompanied by dandruff. These parasites can make your cat very itchy and cause them to overgroom. There's also a skin disease called cheyletiellosis, also known as walking dandruff, caused by contagious mites. On cats, these mites feed on skin dander and skin secretions, causing extensive dandruff and other symptoms. The reason it is called walking dandruff is because the irritation caused by the mites causes scaling of the skin. These scales are moved around by the mites’ activity, which gives the impression of walking dandruff.

Improper owner grooming care

Avoid using stiff bristles on a pet brush or a human brush. These can strip the natural oils from the skin, increasing the chance of dryness and dandruff. Bathing too often, especially with harsh shampoos, can also lead to cat dandruff by disrupting the natural balance of the skin. Any cat can develop mats in its fur. At the first sign of a mat, brush or comb it out. Mats multiply quickly and are accompanied by dandruff.

How to get rid of dandruff on your cat's fur at home

Treatment of cat dandruff can be fairly easy or require a visit to the vet. It depends on the underlying cause. Here are a few things you can try at home to get rid of dandruff on your cat's fur:

  1. Distract your cat when engaging in overgrooming.
  2. Brush your cat's fur daily, and bathe it with a mild shampoo.
  3. Use a monthly flea/parasite preventative.
  4. Try a humidifier in cold weather when the heat is on, placing it close to where your cat spends most of their time.
  5. Feed a WSAVA-compliant complete and balanced diet, ensuring it contains adequate omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  6. Never add supplements to your cat's diet without consulting your vet.
  7. Reduce stress for your cat by creating new play areas, purchasing new toys, and playing with them more often.
  8. Create a quiet place for your cat to avoid noise and excess activity.
  9. Provide fresh water at all times, consider using a pet fountain to entice them to drink more.
  10. Consider feeding canned food for increased hydration, and adding water to kibble or canned food.

When to see the veterinarian for cat dandruff

If none of the home remedies above help with your cat's dandruff, or you see other symptoms such as itchy skin, skin lesions, hair loss, or parasites, or if your cat has other signs of illness such as decreased appetite, lethargy, changes in thirst/urination, vomiting, diarrhea, or pain, it's time to visit your vet. They can thoroughly examine and verify that the flakes are dandruff.

The mouth and tongue can also be examined, along with looking for various parasites. Your vet will do an orthopedic exam, and if arthritis is present, discuss medications with you. Blood work may be recommended. That is the only way diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and other metabolic conditions can be diagnosed. History and exam are factors your vet will consider in possibly diagnosing allergies.

After finding the underlying cause of your cat's dandruff, possible treatments may include topical medicated shampoos, antibiotics, steroids, flea/parasite prevention, medications, and supplements to treat the underlying cause.

Will my pet insurance cover my costs for cat dandruff?

Whether or not pet insurance will cover cat dandruff depends on what type of pet insurance you have. If you have a wellness plan, it may pay for the physical exam but not for tests or medication.

If you have an illness plan, then your policy should cover not only the exam but also testing and medications. It's always best to check with your provider.

Considerations for managing cat dandruff

If your cat appears healthy otherwise and dandruff is the sole concern, trying the home remedies suggested here is advisable. However, if your cat exhibits other signs of illness, it's important to seek prompt veterinary attention. Even if your cat doesn't display additional symptoms but the at-home treatments fail to improve the dandruff, consulting your vet is recommended. Remember, dandruff is often indicative of an underlying condition, and addressing this underlying cause is crucial for effectively managing the dandruff issue.


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Dandruff may appear to be a minor issue that won't harm your cat, and indeed, it won't. However, the real concern lies in its underlying cause. By familiarizing yourself with the various potential causes of cat dandruff, you can systematically address each one. Together, you and your vet can work towards uncovering the root cause of the dandruff and ensure your feline companion remains comfortable, healthy, and happy.

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